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    A Perfect Stranger Sets Off a Chain Reaction of Life

    Kidney Donor Zully Broussard answers media questions at CPMC

    Caption: Kidney Donor Zully Broussard answers media questions at CPMC at a press briefing on March 4. With her are SPMF doctors (l to r) Robert Osorio, chairman, Department of Transplantation; Steven Katznelson and Bill Bry, surgical director, CPMC Transplant Program.

    Experts in psychology and ethics agree that altruistic organ donors are driven by two things: one is an impulse to ensure the survival and spread of their own genes via donations to family members. The other is more mysterious – a strong and simple urge to benefit a fellow human being.

    In 2013, a documentary film entitled “Perfect Strangers,” chronicled the journey of Ellie Edwards, a California woman who decided to donate one of her kidneys to another person – any other person – in need. The film, shot in large part at Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center, gave audiences a glimpse into the heart of Ellie Edwards, an individual whom physicians call “altruistic.”
    This month, Sutter Health CPMC hosted another altruistic kidney donor, Zully Broussard, who is giving one of her organs to a perfect stranger. Zully, who lives in the Sacramento area, triggered a rare six-way paired kidney donation, or swap, that matched six donors and six recipients. The 12 surgeries were performed over a two-day period at CPMC’s Pacific campus in San Francisco.

    During a press conference at our Pacific campus announcing the historic six-way organ donation that Zully sparked with her act of compassion, the Sacramento woman said that faith played “a huge role” in her decision, as well as her life experiences.

    “I lost a son to cancer and lost my husband 14 months ago,” she told the reporters. “So, I know what it feels like to want an extra day and not be able to have it.”

    Zully chose Sutter Health CPMC to keep her safe during the process, saying that “I’m in good hands with this medical team that I trust entirely.” The CPMC transplant team performs more than 200 kidney transplants annually and has been doing transplants for more than 40 years.

    More than 350,000 people are on dialysis in the United States, and about 93,000 are waiting for a kidney transplant. Last year, 4,500 people died waiting for a kidney transplant. Of the 5,771 people who made living kidney donations in the U.S. last year, 161 donated for purely altruistic reasons and did not know their recipients.

    While 161 may seem like a small number for the entire nation, any time a living donor decides to give a kidney to anyone in need, “a multiplier effect kicks in,” said David Jacobs, the inventor of Matchgrid, a sophisticated paired donation software program our physicians and case workers use to identify matches for donor/recipient pairs.

    Coincidentally, it was David Jacobs -- Chief Technology Officer of BiologicTx, the maker of Matchgrid – who first approached Dr. Steven Katznelson, a Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation (SPMF) nephrologist and medical director of CPMC’s Kidney Transplant Program, with the idea for the software after David received a transplanted kidney at CPMC in December 2003. At the time there was nothing like Matchgrid available, so it took three years on dialysis before David received his kidney. If he were having that transplant today, his own invention would have greatly accelerated the process.

    “We live in an amazing time in terms of what is possible medically, technologically and socially,” David said. “I hope large paired transplants like this become less novel and that eventually, I’d be out of business, because we’ll learn how to create or grow viable organs.”

    Technologies like Matchgrid have been helping to make the process more efficient, noted Dr. Katznelson. “Before Mrs. Broussard got involved, we ran our list through Matchgrid, which came up with four or five options for a small number of patients,” Dr. Katznelson said. “After Mrs. Broussard made her decision, and we ran the software again, we had 150 options for pairings.”

    Illustration of Six-way paired kidney exchange: Altruistic donor from Fair Oaks to recipient 1 has a sister-in-law from Benicia who can donate to recipient 2 a Fresno mother in need of a kidney whose son matches recipient 3 Greenbrae mother and daughter pair. Daughter can donate to recipient 4, a San Francisco mom shoes daughter is a match for recipient 5, an SF brother and sister pair. And finally, the sister from Arizona is a match for recipient 6, formerly on donor wait-list.

    SPMF physician Bill Bry, the surgeon who is coordinating the two-day swap, said the surgeries also constitute a rare “single-center” chain, which means most of the donors and recipients are from the Bay Area, “making the logistics easier.”

    Other swaps have been larger than this one, but they are conducted nationally and over a longer period of time. Dr. Bry also said that time is of the essence in a large chain like this for a number of reasons, such as donors getting cold feet.

    Zully Broussard’s act of kindness also has a ripple effect for those on the recipient waiting list. Next week, six people will come off the waiting list moving six others to the front of the line. “Now, a dozen people will be able to be transplanted in a shorter period of time,” said Dr. Katznelson.

    The day before her surgery, Zully said she was excited, but not nervous about the surgery.

    “I’m excited because there is a life out there that will be extended and that my donation will help others as well.” Zully said. “I feel like there is a higher power behind all this, making it happen. I’m glad to be of service.”

    Zully Broussard with SPMF Dr. Steven Katznelson
    Caption: Zully Broussard with SPMF Dr. Steven Katznelson, medical director, CPMC Kidney Transplant program.

    Date: March 6, 2015